ESPN-NHL DEAL IN MELTDOWN

ESPN has delivered a new blow to the embattled National Hockey League, informing it that it won't exercise a contract option for the 2005-06 season. The option epires on Wednesday. A labor dispute between the players and owners wiped out the current season, and former CBS Sports executive Jay Rosenstein told Bloomberg News over the weekend that "it didn't make sense for ESPN to spend $60 million when there is still no labor agreement."

DID ANNOUNCERS OVER-HYPE FEMALE DRIVER?

Journalists covering TV sports coverage excoriated the announcers of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday. Richard Sandomir in the New York Times observed in today's (Monday) edition that ABC announcers Todd Harris and Scott Goodyear were late describing critical lead changes -- a full 20 seconds late following Dan Wheldon's taking the lead from Danica Patrick on Lap 190, and 30 seconds late in announcing that Patrick had been passed by two other drivers and was in fourth place. Sandomir wrote: "You can't lose sight of the basics, especially in open-wheel racing, where cars are tougher to distinguish from each other than in NASCAR." Other sportswriters bemoaned ABC's decision to drop veteran announcer Paul Page and replace him with Harris, who was accused of "overselling" Patrick. As Jerry Lindquist observed in the Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, "Either [Harris] was told to or took it on himself to become Patrick's personal flack. As it was in the month leading up to the race, this was all Patrick all the time." (At one point during the race Harris enthused over Patrick's performance: "Fifty years from now, you will remember where you were.")

HD CUSTOMERS PROTEST DIRECTV PRICING

About 500 DirecTV subscribers have signed a petition notifying the home satellite outfit that they will cancel their NFL Sunday Ticket service if it persists in its decision to charge them an extra $99 to watch the football telecasts in high definition. Mike Mazza, a Florida software engineer, told TV Week magazine, "They're not charging for additional content, like with HD channels. They're charging me for a better picture in a format the country is supposed to be migrating to." A spokesman for DirecTV pointed out, however, that the HD add-on also includes special features, allowing viewers to select camera angles, call up eight games on the screen, and watch a highlights version of the game when it's over.

ROCK BAND, IN DISPUTE WITH MTV, WON'T PERFORM AT MOVIE AWARDS

Nine Inch Nails has notified MTV that it will not appear on next week's MTV Movie Awards if the Viacom-owned cable network continues to refuse to allow the rock band to perform in front of an image of President Bush. "We were set to perform 'The Hand That Feeds' with an unmolested, straightforward image of George W. Bush as the backdrop. Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me," Nine Inch Nails' leader Trent Reznor said in a statement. MTV said that it was "uncomfortable with their performance being built around a partisan political statement."

SEX SELLS; PROTESTS OVER SEX SELL EVEN MORE

Announced plans by Brent Bozell's conservative Parents Television Council to force broadcasters to yank a sexy Carl's Jr. commercial featuring Paris Hilton has sent millions of web surfers to the fast-food chain's website www.SpicyParis.com to download the ad. (The overloaded site reportedly crashed last week.) Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein told the trade website MediaDailyNews Friday: "People hate advertising because they're being forced to watch it. ... But all of a sudden, if they're not allowed to watch it [it becomes irresistible.] Anything that you're told you're not allowed to see, you want."

GREEN ACRES STAR EDDIE ALBERT DEAD AT 99

Veteran actor Eddie Albert, twice nominated for an Oscar but best remembered for his starring role on the long-running sitcom Green Acres, died in Los Angeles on Thursday at age 99. He received Academy Award nominations for supporting actor in 1953's Roman Holiday and 1972's The Heartbreak Kid. But it was Albert's six-year stint on CBS's Green Acres from 1965 to 1971 that brought him everlasting fame. He played a successful Manhattan lawyer who decides to abandon big-city life and settle down on a farm. Eva Gabor played his wife, who forever pined for the social life she had left behind.

FROST: WAS HE PUSHED OUT BY BBC?

In an interview with David Frost that sounded more like a sketch from That Was the Week That Was, a 1960s satirical news show Frost hosted, the famed British interviewer groped for words when asked by the London Independent whether he had been forced by the BBC to shut down his Sunday-morning program Breakfast With Frost. Frost, who ended the show on Sunday after 12 years, told the newspaper that it had posed "a very good question. I couldn't really tell you who came up with this idea [to end the show] first, but I was persuaded in the course of the conversation. ... I was persuaded in the sense that I decided. I decided more than I was persuaded. There was a bit of both."

BLOCKBUSTER BATTLE AT BOX OFFICE

Three blockbusters fought it out at the box office over the Memorial Day holiday, and analysts were hedging their bets on which one would win. Each of the three, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith and newcomers The Longest Yard and Madagascar, was expected to take in more than $50 million over the three-day period and perhaps more than $70 over the entire four-day holiday. It was a see-saw battle that began Friday with box-office trackers estimating that the Adam Sandler remake The Longest Yard scored the first touchdown with about $16.3 million. Sith was reportedly significantly behind with about $15.5 million, while Madagascar bowed with about $14.1 million. On Saturday, according to the estimates, Sith moved ahead with around $20.7 million, while, with kids out of school, Madagascar moved into second place with $18.4 million, just ahead of The Longest Yard with $17.6 million. No estimates were released for Sunday, but analysts suggested that, based on strong word of mouth and expanded family activity, Madagascar could very well have moved into the lead.

NOTE:

Today's edition of Studio Briefing is somewhat abbreviated due to the U.S. Memorial Day holiday.